what is a perspective & how might it change?
Changing your perspective is both easier and harder than changing your habits, physicality, or lifestyle.
It is easier because the process can happen much more quickly and simply.
It is harder because our perspectives are often quite engrained into our identity leaving us with a tendency to avoid the process.
However, with intentionality, we can force ourselves into the process that allows us to see the world differently and, therefore, change our perspective.
Let’s start with a discussion on why our perspectives are so entrenched, then we will look at a philosophy of personal worldview, and we will end with the technique and the question that makes changing our perspective possible.
Part One - Victims of Ignorance
You, as an individual human being, have access to certain knowledge.
Whether through how you were raised or through how you have experienced the world, it has led to your perspective based on what you currently know. The problem with having our perspective molded from our personal experience is that the human default becomes to act as if your experience and your knowledge is the only perspective possible.
What you see is what you know and what you know is more pragmatically prevalent than what you don’t know.
We are ego-centric by default and not only do our perspectives represent this, but how our perspectives define how we see everything else showcases our ego-centric tendency. The issue coalesces with the common cliche of the fish not knowing they are in water or not being able to see the forest from the trees. A perspective seems so obvious to us and yet it is often so assumed that we fail to see our perspectives in the broader context of our lives and the broader context of the world around us and its effects on our lives.
For example, if you have been told that people with blue eyes are inferior or if you have experienced that blue-eyed folk are simply less capable and irrational, then that begins to define how you see the world. Your perspective gets constructed and, once constructed, becomes the dominant factor that dictates how you see the world. The more time and energy that has gone into this construct, the more engrained, embedded, and entrenched it becomes in your life.
Eventually, we begin to see our perspective as the objective truth.
Whether it is the hot button issues of whether or not you should stand for a national anthem, or the various perspectives on gun violence, abortion, homosexuality, racism, or gender; or if it is something more simple as to how to raise children, what a marriage or romantic relationship is supposed to look like, or the best way to live your lifestyle - what we see becomes what we know and what we know becomes the only way to see.
Essentially, we assume we are right.
Now, where this goes can be quite revealing as to why we disagree with and clash with people who don’t see what we do. If our perspective is entrenched in our identity, we assume that we are rationally objective. Therefore, if someone disagrees with our belief or thought about something, they must be wrong. Anything that doesn’t line up with our worldview means that the other person just isn’t as informed as us.
Our perceptions aren’t seen as perceptions…they are seen as reality.
In the process, we become like metal detectors, filtering whatever information is being presented in any given moment through our current lens. If it fits, then that person is rational. If it doesn’t, that person is dismissed as, at best, wrong and in need of our help or, at worst, inferior.
Do you see how racism or slavery or gender inequality has been so passionately defended throughout history? If our perspective is the objective truth then anything that doesn’t fit is assumed to be less informed. Someone arguing against our claims is dismissed because they don’t fit the approved rationality - which is just a way to say they don’t fit with your perspective. We know we are right because it is obviously the only way to see the world.
Just look at social media posts and comments - rarely do you see someone say, “I don’t think you should sit for the National Anthem, but maybe I am missing something here.” Or, “My perspective on gun violence is this and this and this, but it is simply my perspective.” Rather, someone shares their opinion as if it is so obviously the right answer and just can’t believe that someone would do something so opposed to the objective truth!
Here’s the problem - if we assume what we think is the, obviously, rational and objective method of viewing truth, we ignore that it might just be one perspective among many or simply a less than full version of a perspective on its way to truth. We know we are right and we don’t need any further information; those who disagree with us are the ones who need more information. Either they get on board with us or they are dismissed.
Psychologists would call this confirmation bias and it is why we spend more time looking up reasons to prove our point rather than exploring alternative voices and perspectives. People don’t naturally assume they are wrong because we have one set of eyes and one functioning mind. We have a picture of the world in our head that gives us limited access to certain colors and paintbrushes. As long as our picture works, then there is no need to expand our palette - which can even lead to the dismissal of colors that aren’t involved in our picture.
As long as our perspective works, we assume we are right.
As long as we see through our eyes, we assume it is the only way to see.
Anything else can’t be true because it isn’t what we think - and what we think is certainly the right answer.
Part Two - Closed Versus Open Minds
Ancient philosophers called this perspective issue “amathia” - sometimes translated as intelligent stupidity.
Essentially, you are unaware of what you are unaware of. We don’t have to learn anything new because we already know. Why explore anything further if we already have the objective truth?
In philosophy, “amathia” is discussed as the opposite of wisdom.
If you have ever been in a conversation with someone and they are defensively and passionately claiming their right-ness, then you have experienced “amathia”. Someone who assumes they already have the answer simply can’t be reasoned with and they are not open to seeing anything else. Their mind has been made up because their perception is the only reality and it is the only reality because it is their reality.
We can’t be wrong because, obviously, how we have experienced the world is not wrong.
For many human beings, this is our default mode.
Another word for this might be closed-minded.
When we fail to see any possible reality outside of our own, we close off from anything that doesn’t fit our metal detector-like picture of the world. To be closed-minded is to have a failure of imagination.
The theologian Jim Wallis said it this way:
“Those who have the strongest opinions are the ones who have thought the least about them.”
Blue eyed people are less capable than brown eyed folks.
You shouldn’t stand / kneel for the National Anthem.
The gun violence issue has already been decided.
Our view on homosexuality, gender inequality, or racism is the only right view and no more discussion is necessary.
The result of "amathia" or closed mindedness becomes that our worldview, belief system, lifestyle preferences, or perspective is gripped tightly as the only option. The opposite of “amathia” would be someone who pursues with genuine curiosity how they can continue to see more and more and more of the world; it would be someone who pursues to learn and expand as an infinite endeavor. These people also tend to be described as the most wise people, even though they would claim they are still growing and learning everyday.
And it must be said that the more power you have or the more comfortable you are or the smoother things are for you, the less you have to experience that your perspective might be limited. As long as things are working you won’t be forced to see the world differently.
Whatever knowledge you have been handed and whatever perspective has been developed through your eyes is what we hold onto and anything different simply can’t be seen as legitimate. In fact, anything different can easily be projected as completely bad or wrong.
Our minds are closed.
Our bubble is complete.
And we don’t need anything else.
Part Three - The Answer
You may be completely fine with this - which would mean changing your perspective isn’t interesting to you. If that is the case, you can stop reading because I won’t be able to convince you otherwise.
All of the above is to say that this is why changing your perspective is so hard - because it is easier to just stay where you are. It is easier to only look through your eyes. Now, I would argue that your life and the world will not be better off for that decision, but I can see why it might be preferred.
However, if you wish to not be a victim of ignorance, to not fall prey to the closed-minded “amathia” that is so default to human nature, there is a pretty easy way to overcome this and change your perspective.
As you may have picked up by now, the process of having an engrained perspective has been defined by your eyes and is the result of egocentrism - that you only see through your lens and don’t have to consider any other perspectives.
The answer, then, is actually quite simple.
Empathy (for a definition of empathy - click here).
If you see the world through someone else’s perspective then you have now accredited that perspective in the way you accredit yours. When you see, feel, and experience the world as if you are someone else, it humanizes them with the same power which you naturally give yourself. Once you have taken on their perspective as a fellow human being like you, their perspective isn’t so easy to dismiss and your perspective isn’t so easy to assume as objective.
Empathy forces you to consider their validity.
Empathy is the opposite of “amathia” and results in true wisdom - it broadens your perspective outside of just your eyes. Empathy forces you to see more of the world than you normally do. This is why when you meet someone who owns the perspective that you have dismissed, it can change your mind - because you have experienced their world and your rhetoric of irrationality gives way to a real human being with a perspective just as valid as your own.
What empathy does is it opens up the possibility that you have one perspective, but there are others; that you don’t have a corner on the market of objective truth, but are just one option among many. You can still come to the conclusion that you are right, but it is a conclusion drawn from an open mind, not a closed one.
So ask yourself this question:
“What would it take to change my perspective?”
Simply by asking that question, you will put yourself in another person’s shoes just by considering that other options are available.
And, maybe, by presenting an option or a way that could change your mind, it actually will.
That is how we will change our perspective.
Oh wait…one more thing.
There is another way you can change your perspective, but it is much less ideal. However, if we all continue to fail to see past ourselves, this option will naturally force its way upon us.
If we cling to our closed-minded, defensive, “amathia” - then suffering will result.
And suffering will also force you to see the world differently because your picture, perspective, and singular point of view won’t work anymore. Suffering deconstructs our world for us; to the point that you will now have to see it differently.
So before we force ourselves into changing our perspective painfully, let’s just do the empathy option.